Sand Between Your Toes
By Denise Meehan
A single flip flop, newspapers, an emptyCoronacase, a pack of Marlboros, and a pizza box litter thePonquogueBridge. On the rocks below a pair of men’s jeans. The summer people are here, and we blame them for the garbage on the roads, the bulging traffic and overflowing restaurants. We call them Citiots or RV’s for rude visitors. The pine trees along the sidewalk at the end of the bridge even seem to be raising a third finger at the onslaught of the seasonal crowd. But the truth is many of us full time residents started as summer people.
We got sand between our toes renting for a week, a month, a season. Many of those renters became home owners when the price was right and sharing space with beer bonged friends lost its appeal. Living in theHamptonsis seductive. Some people including my son commute for hours to be able to end their days watching the sunset on the bay, surfing a few waves, or just smelling salt air. Retirement often finds empty nesters selling the big house up theIslandbecause they know their kids are more likely to visit at the beach.
My grandparents were guests at the original Canoe Place Inn in Hampton Bays before it was destroyed by fire in 1921. Driving alongDune Roadwith my mother, she would point out a white one story house she and her family leased in Quogue. My parents first rented a cottage offRampasture Roadin Hampton Bays in1954; I was seven. After I was married I wanted to live in the city or at the beach, not in suburbia where I grew up. When my husband and I both got teaching jobs in Port Jefferson, a 45 minute commute didn’t deter us from moving to Hampton Bays. I had such fond memories of my summers there.
I found a photo of my sisters and me crowding around “Uncle Bill “Huggins who lived in the big house behind his five cottages fringingTianaBay. He wore wire rimmed glasses under a wide brimmed straw hat. In this picture he has on a sleeveless undershirt and belted paint spattered jeans. Bill, who never had children, probably was happy about that decision when we arrived in my father’s blue 1953 Buick Roadmaster. We rented” Tree Top” for five years until the summer before I started high school.
Appalachian like, no hair cuts until September, my sunburned sisters are all wearing bathing suits except Jennifer who has shoes and socks that match her outfit. Skinny as seaweed, I am barefoot with well calloused feet. I have one leg bent and resting on the inside of the other like the tree pose in yoga. My mouth is closed for even then I hated my teeth. Suzan who doesn’t have any front teeth is smiling broadly with freckled laughter. Laura’s head is tilted and she is squinting into the camera with her chipmunk smile and untied shoe laces. Half hidden on Suzan’s lap, baby Pam is not yet one. She is so fair that the following year she will have sun blisters like sacks on her back.
The ride from Great Neck to theEast Endwas a pilgrimage. In 1953 Sunrise Highway went as far east as Patchogue, and the Long Island Expressway ended atSmithtown. The car was packed with our belongings for the entire summer. We were there to stay. My father drove out on the weekends. That first summer my mother didn’t drive. The following year on her third attempt she passed the road test in Riverhead, got her license, and a car.
Our white cottage with blue shutters was a sweep in sweep out type of place. The refrigerator wasn’t grounded. Pam stored jelly fish in the freezer and more than once she opened the door in a dripping wet bathing suit and shook with shock. There was a tiny bathroom by the front door. I don’t remember a tub. There might have been a shower, but we used the outside one. We’d run naked from it to the clothes line for sun warmed towels.
The best part was the doll house like upstairs with eaved roofs so low my father couldn’t stand up. Suzan and I shared the bed under the windows that swung open to either side and looked down onto a porch with built in benches. The bay beckoned beyond.